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Zero-waste project upcycles olive leaves for health and pharma applications

June 6, 2021
Food & Drink

Biotech research company Natac is coordinating a three-year, EU-funded upcycling project called Oleaf4Value starting this July.

The project aims to repurpose olive leaves, which are typically wasted throughout the olive oil production chain. It will use advanced isolation and extraction technologies to develop target products for the health, food, feed, cosmetic, pharma and chemical industries.

The project will link the primary olive sector from southern Europe with large multinationals from these highly valued competitive markets in a circular bio-economy project.

“Resource underutilization and inefficiency is unfortunately a common problem in the industry,” José María Pinilla, Natac project manager, tells NutritionInsight.

“The olive industry is a key industry in Spain, representing a great opportunity for the development of new innovative products. Natac is very much focused on making full use of raw materials and product upcycling is one of our priorities,” he highlights.

The aim is to develop 24 high-valued bio-based products with applications for different market sectors, such as the nutraceuticals, performance chemicals and cosmetics sectors. Sixteen of the products will be new to market and the remaining eight providing more cost-effective alternatives.

Just getting started
The project’s upcycling concept is novel to the olive industry, says Pinilla. Globally, 4.5 million tons of olive leaves are produced every year – a key sector in southern Europe and along the Mediterranean basin.

This biomass represents a challenge for the farmers and the wider supply chain, who need to remove it from the fields and the olive oil mills.

With a total budget of €5.7 million (US$6.9 million), the project will address all the stages of the value chain: raw material, biorefining, post-extraction technologies, market validation and sustainability assessment.

Biorefinery technology will fully valorize the olive leaf, with a sequential cascading process and a zero-waste approach.

The Oleaf4Value consortium comprises sixteen partners from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. The partnership consists of six research technology organizations, seven small and medium enterprises and three large enterprises.

Natac’s gain
Natac’s first role in the project is as a coordinator, handling administrative and technical issues and serving as the primary contact with the European Commission.

Secondly, Natac is responsible for designing all of the extraction and purification processes in the olive leaf biorefinery.

“The ingredients will help us to build partnerships and find clients in a variety of industries,” Pinilla explains. The company aims to benefit from the experience, infrastructure and work contributed by its partners.

Olive leaves are already a staple in Natac’s ingredient portfolio. At Vitafoods Virtual Expo 2020, the company promoted Oleafall, a natural olive leaf-based extract that helps normalize oxidative stress and increase the barrier against infections.

Upcycling to save the planet
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, a third of globally produced food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain, which puts a strain on raw resources and keeps carbon emissions heightened.

The F&B industry has identified upcycling – the creative transforming of byproducts, waste materials and unwanted products into new materials – as one tool to turn supply chain spoils into environmental value.

For example, a study in April found supplement potential of oligosaccharides and flavonoids found in Chardonnay wine byproducts. Meanwhile, NutriLeads is extracting new immunity-supporting food ingredients from upcycled carrot raw waste material.

“With the population increase estimated by the UN, sustainability represents the only solution for future generations to continue living on a healthy, thriving planet,” flags Pinilla.

“Initiatives such as the zero-waste approach, upcycling and energy efficiency are crucial if we want to make a more sustainable industry,” he concludes.

By Anni Schleicher


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